Deadly Omen [Tempe Crabtree Mystery Series Book 1]
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by Marilyn Meredith
Category: Mystery/Crime/Suspense/Thriller Clara Award Winner
Description: A candidate for Princess is murdered at a Native American Pow Wow while Tempe Crabtree is working there in her capacity as deputy. Tempe's investigation takes her into the Yanduchi reservation, and her husband, Hutch, has difficulty with Tempe's growing interest in her own native heritage as she seeks the identity of the killer.
eBook Publisher: Hard Shell Word Factory, 2001
eBookwise Release Date: July 2003
26 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [238 KB]
Reading time: 146-205 min.
"Tempe Crabtree faces the dilemma of many women as she divides her time between her job and family. Adding to Tempe's stress is the nature of her job as a police deputy. In this, the first of a series, Tempe solves a murder and learns that love is there for her, even though she feels guilt over the time spent away from her family. The book paints vivid portraits of reservation life and customs. This is an excellent read-one you can't put down."--Scribe and Quill
"A veteran mystery writer, Marilyn Meredith's Deadly Omen not only introduces a fascinating protagonist, but also authentically captures the essence and history of California Native American tribal culture. A brilliantly crafted and highly recommenced mystery, Deadly Omen is the first of a promised series to feature the exploits of Deputy Tempe Crabtree."--Wisconsin Bookwatch
"I like Tempe, her capacity to hold her own against all pressure, even her own guilt, and I am taken with a series that will put two spiritual traditions side by side with neither being the right or only one. I think this is a positive and wonderfully feminine approach. Meredith did a great job of getting all the suspects in from the beginning and in the reader's view and keeping the reader guessing. I love the inclusion of place as a major element of any novel and this setting particularly."--Lesley Kellas Payne, independent editor.
"Deadly Omen is the second in a series of Tempe Crabtree mysteries (officially listed as the 1st--Deadly Trail is a Prequel) written by the talented Marilyn Meredith. With a cast of 3-D characters, and a back-woods setting, Meredith proportionately incorporates Native American culture to plots of murder and intrigue. Engrossing from start to finish, Deadly Omen is a character-driven mystery with enough edge to keep it suspenseful and intriguing. Fast-paced and beautifully written, the reader quickly sympathizes and relates to Crabtree and the rest of her family. I am anxious to start the third in the series, Unequally Yoked."--Phillip Tomasso III, author of Johnny Blade & Third Ring
"I KNOW WHAT I heard! A dog howled all night long. We both know what that means." The woman stamped her high heeled, fringed leather boot causing her dyed black pageboy to swing over her shoulders. Sawdust flurried around her and her companion. "Someone's going to die!"
Deputy Tempe Crabtree stared curiously at the two women. Despite the fact the last statement had been shouted, she was surprised none of the many people milling around the crowded fairgrounds took any notice. The Indians, the majority dressed in Native American clothing, were busy preparing for the opening ceremonies of the Pow Wow. Those who had come to observe the gala event were too entranced by the huge colorful gathering to pay attention to two women arguing.
Sergeant Guthrie had given Tempe the special assignment of keeping the peace at the Pow Wow. He hadn't put it into words, but she knew it was because of her own Yanduchi heritage. The Pow Wow was the first to be held in Dennison, the nearest city to her own small community of Bear Creek. The event had attracted not only the Indian population from Dennison and the nearby reservation, but from far away as well. The parking lot was filled with vehicles with license plates from many other states.
Tempe re-tucked the back of her sharply creased tan uniform shirt into her trousers and stepped closer to the arguing women. The older of the two shook a plump finger near the nose of the other.
"Katherine Davelos, you have no idea what you're talking about! What you heard was probably just a bunch of coyotes. Only an Indian can recognize such a sign... and may I remind you that you are only married to an Indian. You are not one yourself!" The woman spoke sternly but didn't raise her voice. Though acquainted with the speaker, Tempe only knew that her name was Violet Celso and that she was revered as a leader by the local Indians. Full-blooded Yanduchi, with her round, weathered face and short, plump body, Violet reminded Tempe of pictures she had of her grandmother.
Tempe guessed Violet was in her late thirties. Her dark brown hair had been lightly permed, and she wore it in a simple style brushed back from her broad forehead. She wore a traditional buckskin dress, decorated with leather fringe on the bodice, sleeves and hem.
"You're just afraid my Linda is going to win the Princess contest!" The angry Katherine puckered her deeply tanned and overly made-up face into an ugly sneer before spinning on her heels and marching away, kicking up another cloud of sawdust.
Tempe stepped nearer to Violet. "What was that all about?"
Violet smiled. "Hi, Deputy Crabtree, heard you were going to be here. What do you think about all this?" She gestured at the milling crowd. People were beginning to fill the bleachers surrounding the arena, while those in Indian garb seemed to be gathering together near tables that had been set up at the entrance.
"Quite impressive. Had no idea the Pow Wow would attract so many people. Who is that gal?" Tempe nodded toward the woman moving away from them, her tight Jean-encased hips swinging provocatively.
"Katherine Davelos is a wannabe in the worst sense of the word. She lives on the reservation with her husband and daughter. We've never gotten along too well, but ever since her daughter entered the Princess contest Katherine has been impossible. You'd think she and I were competing against each other instead of my Marella and her Linda."
"What was that about someone dying?" Tempe automatically touched the silver barrette securing her long braid to the back of her head to make sure it was still in place.
"She probably meant that as a threat. When a dog howls all night for no reason, it may mean a death is imminent. She probably read that in a book. Pay no attention to Katherine. She's certainly irritating the way she prances around, pretending to be Indian. But she's harmless... harmless to everyone but that poor girl of hers."
Tempe raised a black eyebrow. "How do you mean?"
"She pushes Linda constantly. I doubt if the child even wanted to be in the contest."
"I'm afraid I don't know anything about this Princess business. Is it a beauty pageant?"
Violet chuckled. "Goodness no. If it were, my Marella would win easily, even if I do say so myself. The winner is the one who sells the most tickets for the drawing, so it's whoever works the hardest."
"Is there any reward besides the recognition?" Tempe asked.
"The recognition is the most important because the Princess becomes a role model for other young Indian women. She'll represent Dennison at a variety of events and speaking engagements all over California, including other Pow Wows. At the ceremony to present the new Princess, she'll receive a shawl, a jacket and a sash, and a beautiful beaded crown, along with a percentage of the ticket sales."
Tempe shook her head. "I had no idea there was so much involved with the Pow Wow."
"Yes, I've heard you don't know much about your heritage," Violet said.
"Who told you that?"
"Nick Two John."
Two John lived in Bear Creek. He'd been charged with murder earlier in the year, and Tempe had proven his innocence. Throughout her investigation, Two John had berated her for her lack of knowledge about the Yanduchi.
"I should have guessed," Tempe said.
"He organized this whole Pow Wow, you know."
"No, I didn't know. It looks like a lot of work."
"Most certainly. But a Pow Wow does a lot for our people. It's a way to teach our young folks about their culture and to portray a positive image to outsiders." Violet touched Tempe's arm. "I'd like to explain what's going to happen, but I don't have time. I've got to give the blessing to the dancers now."
While they'd been speaking, the crowd around the tables near the entrance to the arena had grown larger. Tempe watched as Violet moved among the costumed figures. She seemed to be waving smoke toward each individual. Tempe marveled at the diversity of the raiment. Though many were dressed in various versions of the traditional fringed buckskin dress and leggings, every kind of material imaginable from cotton, satin, and velvet had been fashioned into Indian garb and decorated with ribbons, beading, and feathers.
Because he was taller than most, Tempe noticed Nick Two John above the crowd. The handsome Indian busily answered questions, waving his muscular arms; obviously in charge. As usual, he wore his long ebony hair parted in the middle and combed into two braids. Though she couldn't see much more than his shoulders, he seemed to be wearing a vest of some sort over his naked, broad chest.
The sound of a familiar female voice raised in anger caused Tempe to whirl around. Near the many booths where Indian crafts, memorabilia, and souvenirs were being sold, four young women stood. Katherine Davelos vehemently scolded one of them.
Straight brown hair falling from turquoise and coral studded barrettes hid the face of the object of the harangue, as the plump girl kept her head lowered. She wore a green satin dress with white fringe and white knee high leather moccasins.
The most beautiful of the group put her arm around the one Tempe knew must belong to Katherine, and said soothingly, "But it's time for all of us to line up for the processional, Mrs. Davelos."
"Of course you'd say that, Marella. You just want more time to sell your tickets without any competition from Linda." Katherine's blue eyes flashed hatred directed at Marella Celso.
"Mother, please." Linda protested weakly without lifting her head.
Violet was right, if the contest had been judged on beauty alone her daughter most certainly would have won. Marella's mahogany, hip-length hair had a freshly brushed sheen. Her large, nearly black eyes were filled with sympathy for Linda. The white gown with a colorfully beaded top, emphasized her slim figure.
The other two Princess contestants uncomfortably shifted their moccasined feet in the sawdust.
Retaining her composure and keeping her arm around Linda, Marella said, "That's not so, Mrs. Davelos. My mother is already doing the smoke blessing. It's time for us to get in line. You don't want Linda to miss being in the processional and not be seen by everyone in the grandstand, do you?"
Marella had obviously said the right thing. Katherine yanked her daughter from Marella's embrace and rubbed at an invisible smudge on her daughter's flat cheek. "The minute you're done with that folderol, you get yourself into circulation. Go back through the grandstands to sell your tickets."
"Come on, let's hurry," one of the other girls said, her braids thickened by ribbons, their bright ends trailing against the back of her midnight blue velvet gown. She started to run. The others followed quickly with Marella looking back and holding out a hand to encourage Linda to follow.
Katherine made shooing motions to hurry her daughter along.
Deciding to get closer in order to see what was going to happen in the arena, Tempe began edging her way around the assembled dancers and behind the tables. She wished she'd encouraged her son to come, but Blair hadn't shown much interest when she'd mentioned where she'd be spending her entire Saturday.
Tempe had raised her son alone after her highway patrolman husband was killed while chasing a suspect. Bringing her then two-year-old son with her, she'd returned to the tiny mountain community where she'd been raised. She and Blair made their home in a small cottage beside Bear Creek. In June, they'd been joined by Tempe's new husband, Hutch Hutchinson, the pastor of Bear Creek Community Church.
A senior in high school, Blair, had welcomed having another male in the family. Because Tempe usually worked evenings, Hutch and Blair saw more of each other than she did either of them.
As she made her way near the arena she could see that groups of men, young and old, were gathered around large drums situated at intervals around the inside perimeter with one drum in the center. Some of the men were dressed in regalia, others were more plainly attired in every day clothing.
"Deputy Crabtree. Saw you mixing with the crowd a bit ago." Nick Two John stuck out his hand and grasped hers tightly. "How's the new marriage working out?"
"Wonderfully. Thought you and Claudia might be joining our ranks soon." Nick lived with his employer, Claudia Donato, who owned the Bear Creek Inn.
Nick shook his head, his dark eyes twinkling. "Why mess up something that's working great just the way it is. What do you think of the Pow Wow so far?"
"I've never seen so many Native Americans gathered in one place. This must have been quite an undertaking."
"A lot of work," Nick said. "When I was getting all the permits your Sergeant Guthrie told me that even though we have our own security I had to have a deputy on the grounds. I asked that you be given the job. Thought it might do you some good." He almost smiled.
"H'mmm, I owe the Sergeant an apology. I figured he gave me the assignment just because I'm part Yanduchi."
"Frankly, Tempe, we don't need a deputy. We have two men specially chosen to control and maintain order." He pointed out the stern faced men and identified them. One was small and wiry Jake Celso, Violet's husband and Marella's father; the other, barrel-chested Abel Contreras.
"Anytime you have thousands of people gathered in one place like this there's potential for trouble," Tempe said, glancing around.
"There won't be any trouble, Deputy. We don't allow any drinking or drugs. And we don't tolerate profanity or rude behavior." Nick crossed his muscular arms over his chest. "A pow wow is a spiritual time. It's a celebration to give thanks, to honor our friends and elders, a time of music and dance."
The drums began to beat. Expectancy and eagerness crackled through the crowd as it slowly quieted. On the small grandstand, the master-of-ceremonies, an older Indian, wearing well-worn jeans, scuffed cowboy boots, a denim shirt and leather vest stepped up to the microphone.
After a short welcome, he went over the etiquette of the Pow Wow in a solemn manner. To those who came just to observe, he said, "The chairs in the arena are reserved for the judges. Before taking a picture of someone, permission must be granted. Do not enter the arena to take pictures. Do not touch anyone's dance regalia without asking first."
He then addressed the Indians participating in the ceremony. "Only those with permission from the Lead Singer may sit at the Drum. If you aren't wearing traditional regalia, you may only dance during the social songs.
"Singers, report to your drums. We will begin with the Gourd dance."
The drum beat became steady and louder. Though Tempe hadn't noticed them enter, a large group of men now sat in a big circle inside the arena. They were dressed similarly, with red and blue cloth around their necks or draped over the right shoulders, with bandoleers of mescal beans worn over the left shoulder. Unable to see exactly what they were, she noticed decorations fastened to the middle of the red and blue blankets centered in the back. Some looked like military medals and ribbons.
Velvet sashes of either red or blue with fringe and beadwork on the ends encircled their waists. Each dancer held a gourd rattle in one hand and a feather fan in the other.
The drum beat continued, and a singer began. The men remained seated, shaking their rattles and feathers in time to the song. The dancers rose in unison and began moving in place, shaking the rattles and flexing their knees in time with the drum.
Jake Celso shoved his way through those waiting in the front of the line. A murmur of protest rose. Violet reached out toward her husband. "For goodness sake, Jake, what are you...."
Ignoring her, he darted around the end of the bleachers. Fearing trouble, Tempe quickly excused her way through the crowd. When she was free, she broke into a run in an attempt to catch up with Jake.
She found him standing at the other end of the bleachers, scratching his head. "What's going on?" she asked.
"I thought I saw someone who's got no business being here," Jake said, a frown creasing his wide brow.
"Anyone I know?"
"Probably. Grant Whitcomb."
Whitcomb's ranch bordered the reservation. He had an on-going feud with the reservation Indians, always accusing them of breaking down his fences, stealing his cattle and horses, and starting fires. Sometimes his accusations were justified, more often they were not.
"As much as he hates Indians, I can't imagine Mr. Whitcomb wanting anything to do with the Pow Wow," Tempe said.
"Obviously you don't know him very well, Deputy. He's a mean, vicious old man. He'd do anything to hurt me or my family." Jake's eyes narrowed and the crease deepened. He sighed, glancing all around once again. "If it was him, he's managed to find some place to hide. Might as well go back."
The dancers had left the circle and rejoined those waiting in line at the entrance to the arena by the time Tempe returned. The master-of-ceremonies once again stepped to the mike. "Everyone stand for the grand entry and remain standing for the entire ceremony."
At the head of the line were the elders. The men wore huge double bustles at their necks and backs, traditional dress, and red and black, double feathered headdress.
With a slow, halting double step, the older people regally entered the arena first. The previous year's Princess followed, wearing a beautifully decorated shawl over a buckskin dress and a beaded crown perched atop a modern short hairdo.
The Princess hopefuls were in line behind her. They lifted their feet higher, swaying gracefully. Linda Davelos' spirits seemed to have risen with the beat of the drum. She held her head high; a smile brightened her plain face.
Some of the younger men hopped with a lively step, bowing and dipping in time with the rhythm as they entered the arena. One youth had cowbells circling his ankles, adding the discordant clanging to the drum beat and voice of the singer.
The children danced with as much exuberance as their older counterparts. A few of the young mothers carried their children on their backs in modern versions of the Indian backboard.
Some of the participants didn't look like Indians at all except for their clothing. Tempe decided they might be part Indian but like Blair, it just didn't show.
All those dressed in regalia carried a feather of some sort -- just one, or a fan of turkey, dyed chicken feathers, or a more spectacular spray of eagle feathers.
As she watched, amazed by the differences in the outfits, she noticed one young man who stood out from the rest. He danced more exuberantly -- and with less grace -- passing the others. His dark shoulder length hair flowed freely from a headband with beading, ribbon streamers, and white beaded loops circling his black, deep set eyes. Feathers covered his shoulders, leaving his torso bare. Low slung deerskin breeches covered muscular legs. His moccasins pounded against the sawdust as he moved past people making his way towards the front of the line.
He appeared rude, or at least unmindful of those around him, as he circled and dipped around one dancer, then another.
Though he continued to lift his knees high in perfect rhythm with the drum, he slipped in beside the Princess contestants.
The beaded loops cast a shadow on the young man's upper face, making him appear fierce and threatening. Tempe could imagine him as a warrior of long ago, preparing himself for battle.
Marella noticed him for the first time. She missed a beat of the rhythm, almost stumbling. Her mouth opened as though she was going to say something to him and she frowned. From the distance, Tempe couldn't be sure if her expression showed anger -- or was it fear?
Copyright © 2000 by Marilyn Meredith